New robotics class launches at two Detroit high schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Junior Belann Pillivant, 15, operates the training industrial robot during a demonstration by FANUC America, a leading supplier of robotics and factory automation at Pershing High School Monday.

Detroit — Two high schools in Detroit have been chosen to host a new robotics training program with FANUC America that allows students to get hands-on experience in robot operations and certified training in one year.

On Monday, officials at Detroit Public Schools Community District and FANUC, one of the largest makers of industrial robots in the world, unveiled the program only for students at Denby and Pershing high schools.

The FANUC Certified Automation Training program is an elective course for 11th-grade and 12th-grade students and is the first career-related program offered at Denby and Pershing.

Students who complete the one-year program then qualify to take a national assessment examination to receive the FANUC Certified Robot Operator I Certification and compete for jobs in this industry sector, school officials said.

The program is part of Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti's three-year plan to create career academies at all of its high schools so students can seek high-growth, high-demand industry jobs.

Pershing and Denby were chosen to host the program to attract more eighth-graders to the east-side high schools, Vitti said. 

"In suburban America right now, this kind of equipment is in high schools," Vitti said. "We decided to bring this to DPSCD because, if we really are about giving students an opportunity for college and going to work, we have to start offering this in our regular coursework. We can't wait until college or after high school to expose our students to skills, material and equipment."

Each high school has four robots. One teacher from each school is undergoing extensive training and certification at FANUC to teach the course, DPSCD officials said.

FANUC’s certification program has been implemented in 724 high schools across the country and 63 in Michigan. Paul Aiello, director of education, FANUC America, said this is the company's first industry-training program with DPSCD. 

"We are really excited about that. I think this is where it can really provide some benefit," Aiello said. "Students who take this in high school if they go to college, they can get credit for this course. They offer the same courses there."

Local employers are already expressing interest in partnering with DPSCD to offer students who are enrolled in the FANUC program internship opportunities, officials said.

"Students who participate in these programs and receive certifications will be qualified to fill a variety of high-demand and high-paying careers in robotics and advanced manufacturing," Aiello said.

About two dozen students from Pershing and Denby gathered Monday in Pershing's gymnasium to see a presentation on the program and one of the robots in action. 

Pershing student Delann Pillivant was the first to operate the robot using a teach pendant to control its movement as it attempted to pick up and move a small battery.

Pillivant said she jumped at the opportunity to take the FANUC course at Pershing after enjoying her experience on the school's robotic's team last year.

"This is a different spin on it," she said. "There is a programming aspect to it. This is a bit bigger. These robots, in particular, are already being applied in factories. It's a step above. ...I am full on into this."